Stenhouse thought he was ‘the one to beat’ late in Kansas race

Chalk one up for the other Sprint Cup Series rookie.

Sunday at the Kansas Speedway it was all about Roush Fenway Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Stenhouse earned his best career qualifying effort on Friday, third, then followed the effort up with a solid 11th place finish Sunday, in which he ran in the top 10 all afternoon and led his first career NSCS laps (26).

“It was fun. We started up front, ran up front, lost our track position and then got it back and was able to lead some laps,” said Stenhouse on his performance. “We pitted under green and it really got us when the caution came out, but all in all, I think we can take a lot of positives from this weekend.

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“We were fast in practice, fast in qualifying and made the car better through the race and that’s what it’s all about is making your car better throughout the race and I think we did that today. The Zest Ford Fusion was the one to beat there at the end, but we didn’t have the track position to finish it off.”

While former 17 driver Matt Kenseth dominated the STP 400, Stenhouse and teammate Carl Edwards were seemingly never far behind. When Edwards finally found the lead late in the race, Stenhouse quickly pursed and gave his teammate all that he could handle. But Edwards took the rookie to school, and blocked a big run Stenhouse had on him going down the backstretch.

Frustrated the young driver told his team, “I don’t know how many times he’s going to block us.” Then on lap 190 Stenhouse powered around the outside of Edwards for the spot, which he would hold until lap 217.

“He came down there and slid up in front of us a couple of times and I had to check up, but it was cool getting to lead some laps for Roush Fenway and for everyone in Boston,” Stenhouse said about his battle with Edwards, whom he’s had great runs with in the past in the Nationwide Series.

“At least we’ll be able to donate a little something. I just wish we were able to lead the last few.”

Stenhouse and the RFR organization will be donating $100 to the victims of the Boston Marathon for every lap that RFR drivers led. Stenhouse was in firm control of his destiny until the caution flew just after he made a pit stop. He was caught a lap down and while he received the Lucky Dog award, his track position was gone and he never made it back into contention for the win.

It was a case of what could have been. The Zest team had finally hit on the right adjustments when the sun came out. Something Stenhouse noted was beneficial to his race, which at times was too loose to handle. But in the end, crew chief Scott Graves propelled the team forward to a career tying and season best finish.

The finish helped Stenhouse, who’s battling girlfriend Danica Patrick for Rookie of the Year honors, move to 18th in the NSCS standings.

“It was fun to get up there and lead some laps in a Cup car. We haven’t done that and that was the first time we had been up there leading laps and felt like we had a car in contention to beat some of those guys,” said Stenhouse.

“Matt [Kenseth] ended up winning and we ran off and started fuel saving after that, but, it was a good weekend. I just wish the cautions would have fell a little bit different.”

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